Jo O’Sullivan suggests where the Church may be headed
I have been thinking about the Catholic Church of the future.
I have been imagining that all those people who have been requested to do so, have walked away – those ‘liberal’ priests and ‘progressive’ religious and those members of the general laity who, in good conscience, cannot accept certain teachings of the Magesterium, cannot force themselves to cease their own reflecting and bow to the ways thinking and acting that are acceptable to “head office”. How does the Church look now?
There is tremendous relief, first of all. The people who sit in the pews can feel confident that those on either side of them share their world view. They do not have to worry that some day they might have to attend a Mass that is celebrated by a married man, or a woman! They do not have to fear that there may be “failed” Catholics, who are living in sin by cohabiting, going up to receive Communion. And they certainly don’t have to concern themselves with the horror that there might be practicing homosexuals among the ranks participating in the Sacraments! They are happy to be directed and guided by ‘Father’ – they are confident that, if they are in any way doubtful about the right or wrong in any situation, Father will put them right and they’ll do as he directs to the best of their ability.
They have truly beautiful, reverential liturgies – liturgies wherein they keep to the formula approved by Father – because there’s no need for personal initiative, Father knows best. They expect certain behaviour from Father, and they keep a respectful distance from him. Though they recognise that he is, of course, human, he is not quite like them – he has been elevated to a higher plane because of his ordination. They certainly don’t like to see Father in the pub or dressed in jeans and sweatshirt. He is being disrespectful to his office by being ordinary.
Father finds it quite a burden to carry – to have the responsibility for other peoples’ moral codes and spiritual direction and never to show that he, too, is a struggling human being, but he accepts that this is the cross he has to bear to be part of the suffering of Jesus, so he accepts his burden and ‘becomes’ his role. Anyway, he can go to fellow priests and to his Bishop to unburden himself. Together they can support each other and reassure each other that they are on the right path (the Magisterium has told them so) and that they will attain their reward in the next life. Then he can go back to his flock – who are anxiously awaiting his next utterance – and resume his role.
And the people in the pews? What happens when they leave the church after Mass? The world is a very difficult place. Society has become increasingly secularised and, as such, is disdainful of good, practicing Catholics. The media is foul – attacking Catholic values left, right and centre – scorning those who adhere to the one true path to salvation. Our good Catholics try to participate fully in the life of society around them but they see that there are more and more people who are living in ways not compatible with the one, true faith – many couples living together outside of marriage, many couples in second or subsequent relationships, many homosexuals living openly with gay partners. And, while our good Catholics try to love such people- at a distance, of course, outside of their beloved Church, the said people don’t seem to want their love. They seem to regard the Catholics as bigots and fundamentalists for some reason! But our good Catholics accept that this is part of the suffering that their faith has promised them they’d have to endure so they do so stoically.
They surround themselves with like-minded people – of whom, of course, there are many within the confines of the now cleared out Catholic Church. They raise their children with the same great love for the Church – alerting them to the fact that the world is now quite a hostile place to people like them – that they have to be on constant guard against non-Catholic teachings and influences. They feel it’s best to keep their children from such influences by allowing them to mix with only the right people – people who share their world view. In doing so, they raise confident, secure, good Catholic children.
When those children begin to explore the world beyond their parents’ realm of influence one of three different things happens. The children think, reflect, explore for themselves and come to the same conclusions as their parents did – and that’s wonderful. All are secure and confident in their shared world view. Or the children find themselves questioning some of their parents’ / Church’s teachings but they know that their Church’s world view doesn’t allow for different conclusions to be reached so they repress their own critical thought processes (there’s no point in allowing yourself to think if the conclusions you have to reach are already cast in stone!) and continue to go through the motions. Alternatively, the children come to entirely different conclusions and find themselves in constant conflict with their parents – to the point that they either cannot accept or cannot be accepted by their nurturers. The family unit is ruptured. The parents fear for the souls of their children – they have rejected the one true path to salvation!
So much of our good Catholics’ time and energy are being taken up with guarding against the hostile world that there is very little room left for being practicing Christians. It’s very difficult to be Christ’s hands and feet and eyes and ears in a world which sees you as being a passive follower of a misogynistic, homophobic fundamentalist church – a church which has cleansed itself of anybody who dared challenge its teachings in the area of sexuality or in any other area.
So the Roman Catholic Church has indeed become an exclusive institution. Where has its universality gone? Where is the inclusiveness that the title implies? In fact, it can’t really call itself ‘Catholic’ any more, can it? This may seem like gross distortion – Catholicism could NEVER come to this! This is a major world religion which has served the world for two thousand years – it couldn’t possibly become a small, fundamentalist sect. Could it?